When your undergrad days are coming to an end, the idea of starting another big academic commitment right away can feel intimidating. It’s understandable that you may have questions about the future of your academic path.
Does it make sense to forge ahead and go straight from undergraduate degree to grad school? Will taking a year off before grad school improve your academic success in the future?
While you don’t want to lose too much momentum, for some a gap year can be a welcome opportunity to clarify their career goals and eventually return to their studies refreshed. A new environment and perspective can go a long way in helping you to discover new skills and gain valuable life experiences.
Below, we take a look at what a gap year is and discuss the pros and cons that you should consider before making a decision either way.
What Is a Gap Year?
A gap year is essentially a year-long break in your education. Many students contemplate taking a gap year between completing high school and enrolling in college, or between completing their undergraduate degree and enrolling in a graduate program.
Many students use this time to pursue interests that are equally enriching, such as community service, overseas travel, and internships. Either for personal or financial reasons, they don’t feel ready to start grad school. The desire to recharge while enjoying a little self-care and personal growth are the most common reasons why students decide to take a breather.
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For many students, figuring out how to finance a graduate degree is also a concern that must be addressed before they can move forward. Working during a gap year allows them to build professional experience and save money that they can then put toward their degree.
Pros of Taking a Gap Year
How much you benefit from taking a gap year will depend on how well you leverage the time off. Do you picture it as an extended spring break, or do you plan to get involved in activities that will help you stay engaged and motivated? Ask yourself whether you’re emotionally, financially, and academically prepared to make the most of your grad school experience right now.
1. Gaining Work Experience
Getting a job or internship in your field of interest is one of the best ways to beef up your resume and stand out on grad school applications. Whether you’re pursuing an advanced degree in business, education, social work, or medicine, the knowledge you’ll gain from actually doing the work will give you a stronger understanding of the course material when you go back to school.
By working with seasoned professionals and making decisions in a real-world environment, you’ll bring more substance to the concepts you learn in your formal education. If finances are a major hurdle, gaining professional experience could be the perfect solution. Many employers offer tuition reimbursement programs for grad school, giving you the freedom to pursue your degree without a huge financial burden.
2. Exploring Career Options
In a study of pre-college gap year experiences, the Gap Year Association reported that 98 percent of participants felt they developed as a person, 84 percent acquired relevant career skills, and 77 percent said they found more purpose in life.
Chances are, you already have an idea about the occupation you would like, especially if you are considering a graduate degree to make it happen. Taking a gap year between degrees gives you the opportunity to discover what aspects of your chosen field are most rewarding to you. You might even find an entirely new passion that reshapes your career goals. Iron out these details before you commit to an intense graduate program, and you’ll be more likely to stay enthusiastic about finishing your degree.
3. Saving Money
The cost of graduate school is a common concern, especially when you already have loans as an undergrad. If your career requires a graduate degree, there’s even more urgency to keep moving forward, so you can start reaping the rewards of your advanced education. At the same time, taking a year off to save money is a smart way to improve your long-term chances of completing your education.
Students who become swamped by financial obligations are more likely to put their studies on hold indefinitely. If you plan to work during a gap year, you can pay down existing loans and budget for your graduate degree without the stress of juggling a full course load.
4. Time to Recharge
The daily grind of going to class, studying, doing group projects, writing papers, and taking exams becomes repetitive after years of almost nonstop schooling. Even as a highly motivated student, you might feel eager for a break from this very traditional academic track.
A lot of students use their gap year for mental rejuvenation. Some people want to get immersed in a different culture. Others want to learn a new language or instrument. The important thing is to try out new skills and roles you’ve never experienced before, so you can take your mind off academics and learn a little about yourself in the process.
Cons of Taking a Gap Year
A gap year isn’t for everyone. If you don’t think you’ll truly benefit from the time off, be honest with yourself. Consider these reasons why it might be more beneficial to enroll in grad school sooner rather than later.
1. Lost Motivation and Momentum
Are you someone who struggles to get started again once you take a break? A year of sleeping in and binging TV won’t ruin your life, but it could distract you from your career goals. If you don’t do something productive to replace your academic life, you can easily fall into a cycle of bad habits and procrastination.
Continuing your education builds momentum, while stopping it may change your perspective of what’s important to you. If you also have work and family considerations, your desire to resume your education could wane as other priorities take precedence.
2. A Longer Journey
Consider the length of your graduate degree program and any education you plan to pursue afterwards, such as a PhD. Taking a gap year will extend the entire timeline of your education and push your dream job further into the future.
Keep in mind, it’s always possible to take time off at another point when you’re further along in your career. If you’re excited to dive into the next phase of your academic life, it is likely a good idea to channel that excitement and energy into your degree.
A Personal Decision
So, the big question: Should you take a year off?
On one hand, a break from academics is a good opportunity to reassess your career goals and make sure you’re heading into the right industry. If you’re unsure of where your passions lie, taking a year off will allow you to explore your options more fully and make productive choices for your future. On the other hand, if staying the course brings out your best qualities as a student, it’s a better idea to avoid a lengthy break that could derail your career.
Unsure whether or not it makes sense for you to take a break between your undergraduate and graduate degrees? Speak to a Student Ambassador who’s been in your shoes.